There have always been Americans who have prepared themselves for apocalypses, revolutions or major disasters. Some have taken reasonable measures to stockpile essentials. Others have indulged in elaborate concrete bunkers with every material comfort.
Hardcore “doomsday prepping” or the significant stockpiling of food, weapons, medicine and other supplies used to be reserved for people on the fringe of things. Prepper suppliers have thrived by capitalizing upon these niche markets fueled by the fear of societal breakdown scenarios.
As valid as material concerns may be, spiritual needs are more important. A changing American mood suggests that prepping may soon entail much more than choosing irradiated food menus.
The Changing Prepper
A new study published in the Journal of American Studies claims that a culture of fear is gripping America. Prepping is now going mainstream and upstream as this fear expands to all social classes. No longer looking for Armageddon, people are extending their preparations to include the threat of “whatever.” They want to be prepared “just in case” something terrible happens.
The trend corresponds to a mood in polarized America that is hard to define. Most Americans do not suffer from extreme material want. However, they do experience a sense of foreboding about the future.
The recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton by deranged individuals have only served to increase the sense of insecurity and uncertainty. It is hard to feel safe when even a trip to WalMart can become a risky adventure.
As frightening as the shootings are, the vitriol of the national debate adds to the sense of angst. The terms of the debate are changing so that any word (or pronoun) can be termed racist, hateful or some kind of -phobic. A climate where anything can be weaponized makes life impossible.
Thus, a generalized feeling of uneasiness pervades. There is a sense that something is not right in America. It is hard to say exactly what’s coming. It is even harder to prepare for this murky future. Anything can happen when there is no longer a notion of what is right and wrong. Any place can serve as a theater stage to express rage and political drama.
What Preppers Fear
This foreboding is reflecting in the prepper report. Researchers from the United Kingdom surveyed preppers from 18 U.S. states to find out why they are stockpiling food and supplies. They found that radical liberal agendas and policies, while still important, are no longer the top concerns.
Unlike the past, their fears now tend to be less political and more headline oriented. Prepper concerns include economic crashes, terrorist attacks, cyber-attacks, pandemics, and environmental disasters.
Fearing Fear Itself
However, their worst threat is fear itself. Preppers feel threatened by the overall sense of fear that permeates society.
"Fear is now deeply entrenched in modern American culture and is the principal reason that so many citizens are engaging in ‘prepping,'" says lead author Dr. Michael Mills.
The fear reflects a steady decline in mediating institutions like the family, community and church that help people cope with danger.
In addition, the study mentions a lack of trust in government. The researchers say that the frequent recommendations from the U.S. government on how to prepare for disasters like hurricanes or other natural disasters have contributed to the increasing number of preppers from all sectors in American society.
“Rather than seeing prepping as an exception within America’s right-wing political culture,” Mills continues, “we ought to see it as being reflective of increasingly established and popular outlooks.”
The new preppers have less confidence in government to resolve problems. They feel that if disaster strikes, the government’s response would not be enough. Most people would need to depend on themselves and their stockpiled goods.
Fear: A Spiritual Condition
However, these stockpiles will not be enough in the coming times. Each material good that is stockpiled corresponds to a physical need. People know that in times of scarcity, for example, they will need food. In the face of extreme danger to property, they will need firearms to protect themselves.
However, there is no material good that specifically corresponds to a prevailing fear. Fear is a spiritual condition that needs a corresponding spiritual good to alleviate it.
Fear, by definition, is an unsettlement of the soul that comes from the apprehension of some present or future danger.
Thus, the modern-day prepper should “stockpile” the spiritual wherewithal to overcome fear. This key ingredient is by far the most urgent.
The Need for Certitude of the Spiritual Prepper
Fear is caused by insecurity in the face of uncertainty. Thus, the spiritual prepper needs to collect certainties to overcome fear in times of crisis.
Certainty should come in the form of strong convictions tied to an objective moral law that helps people distinguish between right and wrong, truth and error. It also involves a willingness to act upon these certainties and communicate them to others.
Certitude is a product of the virtue of prudence, by which right reason is applied to actions. Prudence introduces into human action those norms of experience, common sense and balance that make life human, flexible and practical. For this reason, prudence is also called practical wisdom.
Like all virtues, prudence is a habit. Thus, the practice of prudence will allow a person to stockpile habits that will prove useful in times of adversity and “whatever.”
These certainties are fortified yet more when based on the moral teachings and truths of the Church. The soul can find the height of certainty in prayer when practicing the habit of confiding in God for all needs.
As prepping grows in today’s polarized America, preppers should realize the limitations of stockpiling only material goods. By far, more important is the spiritual prepping that gives people the skills and character necessary to be prepared “just in case” something terrible happens.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Soceity--Where We've Been, How We Go Here, and Where We Need to Go. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.